The woman behind the ticket counter couldn't locate my name. I hadn’t realized that Neko Case had two shows scheduled (one for Saturday and one for Sunday) when I’d blindly headed down to the EMP, generic voucher in hand. The confusion ceased when Ticket Lady informed me I was on the list for Saturday night, not Sunday afternoon. A bewildered look and a heartfelt apology was all I had to provide in order to get into the sold-out all-ages show.
So I was slightly late entering the Sky Church (would it be a lie if I told my mother I went to "church" on Sunday?) and my tardiness rendered me chairless. Not to be discouraged, I staked my spot on the floor and sat cross-legged in a sea of rowdy toddlers and multicolored EMP balloons. These folks weren’t kidding about 'all-ages'. The surroundings elated me with a nostalgia for yesteryear and I gleefully glared at the EMP staff members, half-awaiting my milkbox, cookie, and late afternoon nap.
Sitting in a mass hysteria of overly-stimulated children normally brings about images of a "depths of hell" nature (far, far from "Sky Church") for me, and upon sensing my benevolence one particular young’un decided I would be his project for the day. He stared at me through an iridescent purple balloon and giggled like only a two-year-old (just my estimation – I haven't had much experience with children) does. This continued until the balloon burst against his face. Crying ensued. I'm not certain if it was the noise or my sudden color change that frightened him.
Soon Neko Case, Kelly Hogan and their accompanist John filed onto stage and my attention was pulled from the children and redirected towards the only adults in my line of vision. John picked up his banjo (does he have any idea how HOT I am for the banjo?) and Neko and Kelly took their places behind their respective microphones. The only sound in classic twang that I love more than bare-bones banjo pickin’ is country vocal harmonies – the type of harmonies that don't just enhance the song… they ARE the song. Neko and Kelly's blended vocals (fluid and rich in a way only females’ voices can be) were perfectly layered atop the thin, metallic banjo tones for a gorgeous contrast, thoughts of which still give me chills.
The banter was playfully amusing. Kelly pronounced before the third ditty, "This is a song about working in a restaurant… stay in school." This song entailed Kelly playing what she referred to as a "fake trumpet". Basically, she held her hands up to her mouth and blew kazoo-inspired noises into the microphone. John changed instruments between each song. At one point in the show, Neko looked at him in confusion and asked, "How many instruments you playin'?" Personally, I lost count, but I did spot a lap steel guitar, a pedal steel guitar, a ukulele, a regular ol' six string, and of course the magnificent aforementioned banjo.
After a period of time, the performance transformed me from a member of an audience into a voyeur watching backhills neighbors jammin’ to made-up ditties on their front porch. This feeling was solidified when I realized Kelly Hogan had slipped off her flip-flops mid-show and was tapping her bare foot on the stage to keep time. She’d also brought her dog along – he was lethargically napping on stage during the majority of the set. Perhaps he had found the milk and cookies and had consumed them before they could be rationed out to the restless children – and to me?
The ladies played some classic tunes that got the audience cheering. One familiar song's refrain (originally by Mary Ford and Les Paul) repeated "Puff your cares away, puff them night and day" and I couldn't help pondering whether Camel had sponsored this tour. Another number invoked Presidents of the United States-inspired lyrics such as "Trudy, she's got fleas, hangin' off her knees, and she wants to go to Hawaii." The majority of the songs were under two minutes — intentional, I’m sure, considering the average age of the audience. But the set was perfectly tailored to my short attention span as well.
Kelly briefly introduced one of her songs by giving some insight on Chowder Shouter (an Atlanta-based band she was involved with back in the day). According to the story, Chowder Shouter didn't have any instruments; on the way to their gigs, the members would pile into a single vehicle and grab random objects from the side of the road to use. When the pickin's were slim, their mouths served as the main instruments (hence the name "Chowder Shouter"). In an inspired frenzy, Kelly snatched her flip-flops from the ground and began pounding them together to begin the song.
The entire show was hardly what I’d expected, but I was far from disappointed. After we were dismissed, I bounced down the sidewalk, as carefree as the two-year-old before losing his balloon, singing, "Trudy, she's got fleas, hangin’ off her knees" all the way home. Damn those infectious lyrics.